a screen within a screen – SUZIE Q & LEO SIBONI
They’re not even close to turning 30.
And yet they are releasing their third fashion film superproduction, IS THIS REAL LIFE for designers Mastori and Motwary, on Vogue Italia; and doing the cover story for UNDER THE INFLUENCE, out on Friday.
They are… Suzie Q and Leo Siboni.
Antoine Asseraf: how did the two of you meet ?
Suzie Q & Leo Siboni: We met while studying at Ecole des Gobelins, Paris, in 2005. At first we helped each other out for our personal projects, and then in 2007 we started working together.
And what was your first project as a duo ?
It was a photo series for the fashion magazine DOUBLE, named SCREENPLAY. We used different films by John Ford, projected as a background.
The idea was to establish a relationship between John Wayne and the model.
At Gobelins, did you both study photography ? And why did you start with fashion photography ?
Yes, we both studied photography. For us fashion is a way to experiment, fashion imagery is about mise-en-scène, putting the clothes forward.
Paradoxically, what we like the most are the constraints.
It helps you create, pressures you to act quickly. It’s rather intense.
Funny that your photo series should be about cinema…
Cinema inspires us a lot. We work more and more with the idea of an image within the image, of a certain depth, a frame within the frame. In the end I think we’re attached to the idea of the screen.
If I’ve understood correctly, since you graduated from Gobelins, one of you started working while the other kept studying by doing a program at the Paris Beaux-Arts ?
Leo: Yes, Suzie works on sculptures and installations, while I’m working on some cinema projects.
PURSUIT, by Suzie Q & Leo Siboni.
Let’s get back to your first big project, PURSUIT. How did this come about ?
Well we had just won the Picto prize for Screenplay. We won the opportunity to do an exhibit at Passage du Désir / BETC, so we decided to make a film for this exhibit. We’d been thinking about making a video fashion editorial for a while.
PURSUIT is inspired by a sequence in DIE HARD with Bruce Willis. It’s a bit of a remake, but with models instead of actors, and a banquet room instead of the Nakatomi building set. We thought the original scene was very fashion – the character is walking on the table as on catwalk.
And then we played with cuts, changing the clothes in the midst of the scene. You can see the girls are changing outfits all the time.
We wanted to have the ability to extract images directly from the film, so we worked on a RED system, which allows the film stills to be very high res.
And how do young graduates like you get hold of RED system, how did you even know about it then ?
Leo: At the time I was a digital assistant, I was interested in technical equipment, the newest types of cameras. One day, talking to this guy, I said “Imagine one day, it’ll be awesome, we’ll be able to get hi-res stills from films.” And he told me it already existed, it was called RED.
So given that we had an exhibit bringing an audience of 600 people on the ground floor of a major advertising agency, we set up a partnership.
Clever. Was it natural for you, going from photo to video ?
Leo: Yes we already had experience, from school and from some experimental films I made on my own.
Suzie and I watch a lot of films which helps, but the big difference with photo, is that you are really working with a big team, so everything must be thought out ahead of time, or else it doesn’t work.
When I came to you to make a film for Light Series in Milano, I would have never imagined something as strong as BLACK LIGHT… what happened between the 2 films ?
Well PURSUIT allowed to be discovered by a production company, Moonwalk films, which was a real help. They helped us making BLACK LIGHT – casting, post production, etc. They also helped us get a crane for 2 days of shooting. It’s important to have a producer that believes in what you do and is willing to help.
BLACK LIGHT, by Suzie Q & Leo Siboni.
What was the inspiration for BLACK LIGHT ? It reminded me of DOGVILLE, but then there’s this light installation at the end…
DOGVILLE inspired us for the set.
The rails are inspired by Carlos Reygadas’ fim JAPAN.
The light installation however… We were both assitants to different photographers for several years, so I think it’s an accumulation of different things. Black lighting was mostly a way of showing the clothes in a different way. Then we had to find how to go from black light to normal light, so we were tempted to make the link with lightning, as if there was a storm.
I remember the 1 minute format frustrated you at first, and yet this duration, which is a bit like advertising, made many of the Light Series films stronger. Do you feel at ease in the advertising format, or you feel drawn to the feature film.
In the end it’s interesting to concentrate and boil it down to the essentials.
So now let’s talk about this new project, IS THIS REAL LIFE. I know that Filep contacted you to make a film around his NUPTIALIS dress — what in his universe interested you ?
We accepted the project because we thought it was a challenge, the dress already tells so much by itself, it’s very detailed, impressive. We created a simple universe to let the dress stand out, it’s almost a character in itself.
There’s something very Lynch-esque in the film, some LOST HIGHWAY references, what were your other references ?
The little girl made me think of Mr OIzo/Quentin Dupieux’s RUBBER.
Well, KISS ME DEADLY and TERMINATOR 2. I haven’t seen RUBBER.
Well in RUBBER there is this notion of screen within the screen, you have the film characters, but also a group of spectators who are abused but nonetheless try to follow the plot, and it’s not always clear who can and cannot “see” the spectators.
That’s interesting, I’m going to have a look at it…
We’ve been wanting to put the spectator inside the film for a while now, to create a distance and a touch of humor.
Still from IS THIS REAL LIFE by Suzie Q & Leo Siboni, for Maria Mastori & Filep Motwary's NUPTIALIS.
Let’s talk about humor and dialogs actually, they are both rare elements in fashion – there’s usually no talking and not much fun.
It’s your first time using dialogs, correct ?
Yes it’s the first time with dialogs and intentional humor… though some people were laughing in front of PURSUIT, maybe because it was a remake… We wanted to start introducing that dimension even if there aren’t a lot, they’re not meant to be taken too seriously, they act more as a reminder that fashion is a fictional universe, sometimes surreal.
BENJAMIN ESSER by Suzie Q & Leo Siboni, for Levis'.
Do you continue working on print as well ?
In pring advertising we’ve worked with Levis’, Rolex and Mango. For editorial we work with Double and now we just did a series for UNDER THE INFLUENCE.
Like BLACK LIGHT, this series integrates Suzie’s installation work…
Suzie: It’s the result of different ideas we had shared, I’m quite sensitive to the universe of theater in my art, but it was Leo who thought of having tinted mirrors.
I think it’s interesting because it works in a purely photo context, without the cinema aspect of your previous work.
Do you think you could make a fim without a story ?
Well there is still the idea of the screen within the screen.
But making a film without a story means relying entirely on aesthetics, while Cinema is an aesthetic at the service of a narrative.
The last thing which stimulated you ?
SERPICO by Sydney Lumet. Great film.